Talking Tequila With the Industry's Head Honcho Francisco Gonzalez

We might equate tequila with lime chasers, tropical cocktails, and a hazy night or two. But to Francisco Gonzalez, president of the National Chamber of the Tequila Industry, it means a taste of Mexico, even when he's far away from home.

Home for Gonzalez is Los Altos, the highlands of Jalisco, a state in western Mexico. There, blue agave plants abound and are used to create the official spirit of the area. Not to mention, it's the only place in the world where tequila can be produced, according to Mexican law.

But the Mexican liquor is becoming more and more popular in the United States, especially in Florida. According to the National Chamber of the Tequila Industry, 80 percent of the industry's exports come to the United States and of those 11.6 million cases, 670,000 are sold in Florida.

We met up with Gonzalez and went over some more important tequila statistics, as well as what it's got to do with grape soda, tourism, and minibars.

New Times: What is the proper way to drink tequila?

Francisco Gonzalez: I would just say that no matter how you drink it, you have to drink tequila. Now, it's okay to drink margaritas or tequila in other mixed drinks, but the way to appreciate it is straight and slow. You see a lot of young people chug it and follow it with a lime, but that's not the proper way. You have to swallow the product and taste the characteristics of this product. Because it's a product you can enjoy and capture the flavor of the agave and freshness of the plant's herbal flavors. Especially with the añejos, you can get the effects of the wood and it's different flavors.

Do people do the lime thing in Mexico?

No. We do mix it in drinks like Coca-Cola, grape soda, juice, and margaritas. The mixology is growing a lot.

How is tequila different from other drinks?

Tequila is different from say vodka, because with vodka you just drink vodka. In tequila you have four different categories of tequila that you can enjoy. You have white, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo. You have tequila flavors, too.

What is the most popular tequila brand in the United States?

Cuervo is the number one tequila sold in the United States, with 4 million cases sold every year. Don Julio, Patron, and Herradura are also popular in the U.S.

Tell us about Jalisco, the region where agave is grown and tequila is produced.

UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization] recognized the region of tequila as a World Heritage Site. There are various archaeological sites and there is an effort to keep up the old tequila distilleries and old haciendas. There is a tourist spot in Jalisco. Now going to tequila is like going to Napa Valley or Champagne.

How is tequila representative of that region?

It very well represents Mexico because everybody that I know outside of Mexico associates tequila with Mexico. When you talk about Mexico, everybody asks about the tequila. We say in the industry, "Tequila is Mexico like Mexico is tequila." So we cannot separate them. I feel very proud to be tequilero and to have the best ambassador of Mexico in the world, because tequila is the best ambassador of Mexico.

Is it safe to visit?

We've had a lot of bad publicity because of the violence in the borders of Mexico, but the vacations destinations are still not affected by that problem. People can travel and feel safe because the regions are all very far away. The problems in Ciudad Juarez would be about a seven hour drive from the nearest tourist destination.

Have you come across good tequila on your visit to Miami?

We went to Capital Grille last night and we drank good tequila. One of the things that's very nice, I remember living in the states in 1975 and it was very difficult to find other tequila besides Cuervo and Sauza. Today it's a very huge selection of Mexican brands and you can find them everywhere you go. They even have them in the minibar at the hotel. When you find a product in a minibar, you know people are asking for it.

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